Urijah Faber (right) and Renan Barao face off before their bout at UFC 169.
Coming into UFC 169, almost every contest crackled with potential energy. No one would have guessed beforehand that it would break the UFC record for the most decisions in a single fight card.
But that's what it did. Last June, UFC 161 set the mark with nine decisions, and UFC 169, which went down Saturday from Newark, N.J., met it scorecard for scorecard and then some. Twelve fights on the full card. Ten fights went to the judges.
It goes to demonstrate the foolhardiness inherent in predicting anything in MMA. All throughout fight week, insiders and hardcores gushed over the card and its litany of tasty matchups, from Fight Pass to finale. The action didn't unfold that way.
But that doesn't necessarily mean the whole thing was a clunker. How did it actually shake out on Super Bowl Eve? Despite the decisions, did the card's results manage to outstrip its buzz, which never exceeded a low hum in the larger sporting world?
Would fan-favorite Urijah Faber achieve revenge and the ultimate prize in his rematch with seemingly unbeatable bantamweight champ Renan Barao? Would featherweight champ Jose Aldo destroy another challenger, or did Ricardo Lamas bull his way to an upset? Which man avoided the executioner's axe in a "loser-leaves-town" bout between two name-brand heavyweights in Alistair Overeem and Frank Mir?
Sure, you can look up the final stat lines. But those only tell you so much. Here are the real winners and losers from UFC 169.
Nick Catone (left) and Tom Watson mix it up at UFC 169.
Seven fights. Seven decisions. Take a bow, UFC 169 undercard, and soak in this slow-clap.
It's not that decisions in and of themselves equal uninteresting or lackluster fights. But it doesn't not mean that, either. And I have to tell you: These were some seriously uninteresting and lackluster fights.
Like picking the brightest star out of the night sky, it would be impossible to pinpoint a signature undercard moment. The time when Clint Hester couldn't find any range? The time when Tom Watson reacted to takedowns like he had forgotten they were allowed? The time when John Makdessi and Alan Patrick stared at each other for 15 minutes? Right, you see what I'm saying.
Sure, Kevin Lee vs. Al Iaquinta was a nice fight. But, yeah. For the most part, a lot of standing around, a lot of tentative striking, a lot of underdeveloped skill sets and warmed-over middlemen. The best thing anyone can say for the whole thing is that it was easy to forget.
Abel Trujillo (left) and Jamie Varner battled at UFC 169.
You think Abel Trujillo and Jamie Varner watched the undercard?
Because it sure looked like they knew the whole thing needed a jolt (and that there was still plenty of bonus money up for grabs). Varner used a takedown and ground control to eke out a close and entertaining first round. But in the second they turned the dial to 11, standing face to face in an extended, may-the-best-man-win pier-sixer.
It appeared Varner had it, landing that heavy right hand and hitting knees along the fence. But then Trujillo unfurled a right hook that met flush with Varner's jaw, and Varner, hair fluttering, fell hard to the canvas.
And just like that, we were cooking with gas. Both men deserve a hat tip for finally converting UFC 169's potential into something decidedly kinetic.
Don't look at me like that, Frank Mir. It's nothing personal.
But after he barely avoided a first-round stoppage, only to gas down the stretch to take a bloody beating at the hands of Alistair Overeem, it appears Mir might soon be in receipt of some undesirable paperwork from Zuffa, LLC.
If this truly was a loser-leaves-town contest, there is no doubt who will be piling his possessions into a hanky and tying it to the end of a stick some time in the fairly near future.
However, regardless of the UFC's decision, Mir said the loss would not necessarily signal the end, via ESPN's Brett Okamoto:
There are two ways I would consider retirement. One is losing to guys who are not top-level competition. The other is if I started losing where it's like, 'OK man, you were knocked out viciously and staring at the rafters.' I won't endanger my health.
Yes, Overeem defeated Mir Saturday night, and quite handily. And yet, in some ways, it was the same old Reem.
In the first round, with Mir crumpled in a heap along the fence and with the referee hovering, Overeem could not close the deal. A rain of elbows and punches could not close the curtain. If you'll recall, that's the same problem that cost him the fight against Travis Browne.
It didn't cost him the fight this time. He looked good, didn't gas and did his job. He fought smart. Good on him. But maybe he won't be so lucky next time.
Then, in his post-fight interview in the cage, Overeem called out Brock Lesnar. For those scoring at home, Lesnar retired in the cage after the two fought in 2011. Though there were rumors of a Lesnar return, Fox Sports' Damon Martin wrote in early January:
It was all for not as it turns out because Lesnar was never actually going to return to the UFC and instead the entire ordeal was just hype to create attention around his return to the WWE, which happened on Monday night.
The Reem chose to call out this man instead of Browne or Antonio Silva, the two men who knocked him out in his two previous contests. And I'm not the only one who noticed this tweet from Silva (@BigfootSilva): "Why he call Brock Lesnar? I'm here.."
It all adds up to a fighter whose bark may now, at age 33, be scarier than his bite.
Ricardo Lamas is an excellent fighter, an extremely tough dude and a great member of the UFC community. But on Saturday night, he was just another guy.
Lamas earned this title shot the old-fashioned way, by going a perfect 4-0 since dropping to featherweight and haranguing any honcho or media member who would listen about his readiness to face the champ. He was finally lifted out of the pack for this bout at UFC 169, but he quickly fell back into the throng.
The guy was outclassed from beginning to end and, save for a brief ground-and-pound flurry right before the bell, was never what you would call "in" the fight. Wrestling was purportedly where his advantage existed, but he never even landed a takedown.
It wasn't so much a reflection on Lamas as it was on the unassailable skills of Aldo. And Lamas showed incredibly fortitude in fighting through a rain of brutal leg kicks. Still, Lamas came up short at UFC 169, no matter how you slice it.
There's nothing left for Jose Aldo in the featherweight division. He proved that at UFC 169.
He has laid waste to each and every challenge placed before him. His last four: Chad Mendes, Frankie Edgar, Chan Sung Jung and now Ricardo Lamas. Read that list again. That is a murderers' row. And none has been able to so much as put a scare into Jose Aldo.
Aldo went to his familiar well Saturday night, and once again it worked to violent effect. Inhuman leg kicks. The best takedown defense in MMA. Razor-topped striking combinations. Only the sheer grit of Lamas prevented a stoppage, in my mind. It was dominant to the point of being uncompetitive, and uncompetitive to the point of being boring.
The featherweight class, with Aldo at the top, is what you call cleaned out. Aldo moving up would remove the logjam at the top of the 145-pound bracket and bring a sonic boom to the already exciting 155-pound division.
The time is now. And hey, if Aldo facing current champion Anthony Pettis doesn't move the needle, then the needle is busted, my friend.
About halfway through a well-contested first round, Renan Barao cracked Faber with a right hand that was audible to the viewing audience. The challenger fell, eventually staggered up, did not get the better of the ensuing standup wildness and eventually got cracked again.
When referee Herb Dean stopped the fight, Barao was raining unanswered hammerfists on Faber's turtled-up midsection. Maybe the stoppage was early, but it wasn't that early. At worst, it just expedited the inevitable.
Faber was curled in a ball and, whether or not it is reasonable to expect the ref to see or accept Faber's thumbs-up as a sign that he was OK, was not OK. A thumbs-up sign is a questionable sign that you're "working" under any circumstances.
I respect the hell out of Faber, as do all UFC fans. But regardless of what he says, he came up short this time.
Early stoppage or no, all I know is, I wouldn't want to be Renan Barao's next opponent.
Barao moves and strikes with a creativity, a quickness and a force not found in many other fighters, even in his camp mate Aldo. You may have to look to Jon Jones to find a more potent blend.
The first round might have gone to Faber, had that fight-ending combination never arrived. But arrive it did, with the right hook landing with audible pop. It was a thing of beauty, and even if Faber wasn't definitively, 100 percent doneski at the end, he was certainly in very, very deep trouble.
This was Barao's first fight as lineal champ, after Dominick Cruz was forced to relinquish the belt because of injury. His last could be a long time coming.
Renan Barao def. Urijah Faber by TKO, 3:42, Rd. 1
Jose Aldo def. Ricardo Lamas by unanimous decision
Alistair Overeem def. Frank Mir by unanimous decision
Ali Bagautinov def. John Lineker by unanimous decision
Abel Trujillo def. Jamie Varner by KO, 2:32, Rd. 2
Alan Patrick def. John Makdessi by unanimous decision
Chris Cariaso def. Danny Martinez by unanimous decision
Nick Catone def. Tom Watson by split decision
Al Iaquinta def. Kevin Lee by unanimous decision
Clint Hester def. Andy Enz by unanimous decision
Rashid Magomedov def. Tony Martin by unanimous decision
Neil Magny def. Gasan Umalatov by unanimous decision
Scott Harris writes about MMA for Bleacher Report. You are invited to follow Scott on Twitter. No pressure, though. Super casual.